Latin Dances

Known for its sensual hip action and sexy flair, Rhythm or Latin dance is one of the most popular styles of dancing. Learning Latin dances is fairly easy, as most of the dances are made up of the same basic steps. The term "Latin dance" may be used in two different ways: to denote dances that originated in Latin America and to name a category of International style ballroom dances. Many popular dances originated in Latin America, and so are referred to as Latin dances.

Examples of Rhythm/Latin Dances include:

  • Bolero
  • ChaCha
  • Mambo
  • Merengue
  • Rumba
  • Salsa
  •  Samba


Bolero was originally a Spanish dance with Moroccan roots. Bolero is often called the “Cuban Dance of Love,” and is thought to have similar origins to Rumba. Bolero is believed to have evolved from Afro-Cuban and Spanish folk dances such as the Danzon, Beguine and Fandango. Arriving in the US in the mid-1930s, it was danced in its traditional form to a constant beat of drums. Contemporary Bolero music is slow and dreamy, usually with Spanish vocals and soft percussion.

Dance Characteristics

Bolero is a romantic dance characterized by slow, smooth, gliding movements, graceful turns, and dramatic arm styling. Bolero uses elements from three dances: contra body movement from Tango; rise and fall from Waltz; and slow Latin music and a modified version of Cuban motion from Rumba.


ChaCha evolved from a version of Cuban Mambo called Chasse' Mambo. As music always dictates the dance, chasse' (meaning to chase) steps were inserted between the forward and back breaks when a slower version of Mambo music was played. Reportedly, ChaCha got its name from the sound of women's shoes shuffling across the floor.

ChaCha was introduced to the US in the early 1950s and promptly sparked a dance craze. Enrique Jorrin, a Cuban violinist, is attributed with creating the first ChaCha song. After arriving in the US the traditional violins and flutes were often exchanged for big-band instruments such as trumpet, trombone and saxophone.

Dance Characteristics

ChaCha is lively and fun. Unlike the smooth dances which travel around the line of dance, ChaCha is a non-progressive dance that emphasizes Cuban Motion and rhythm expressed throughout the body.


Mambo developed from the Cuban dance Danzon, and was greatly influenced by Cuban Haitians and American Jazz. Perez Prado is credited with introducing Mambo at a Havana nightclub in 1943. Other Latin musicians made significant contributions to Mambo's growth and development, including Tito Rodriquez, Tito Puente and Xavier Cugat.

Around 1947, mambo arrived in New York. Quickly becoming all the rage, Mambo was taught at dance schools, resorts and nightclubs, reaching its height of popularity by the mid-1950s. The fad waned with the birth of ChaCha, a dance developed from Mambo. The Mambo has regained its popularity, due in large part to a New York dancer named Eddie Torres, as well as popular Mambo songs and movies.

Dance Characteristics

Mambo is a fast and spicy dance characterized by strong Cuban Motion, staccato movement and expression of rhythm through the body. The dancer hold on count “1” and breaks on count “2.” Mambo also features exciting swivels and spins.


Merengue is the national dance of the Dominican Republic, where it originated in the early 1800s. Merengue bands from the countryside typically included a vocalist backed by an accordion, a metal scraper and a double-headed tambora drum played with a stick. Legend says the dance acquired its characteristic look from an old war hero who returned from battle with a wounded leg. While dancing, he couldn't help but limp to one side. Out of respect, all the villagers started dancing with a limp.

Dance Characteristics

Merengue is a fun and easy dance made up of simple steps. Primarily a non-progressive dance, it can also travel counter-clockwise around the dance floor. Noted for its Cuban Motion, Merengue is also characterized by its marching feel. Emphasis may be put on count 1 by taking a larger step and slightly dragging the opposite/closing leg.


Rumba is a romantic Latin dance with Afro-Cuban origins. Rumba is a broad term referring to multiple music and dance forms, including Danzon, Guaracha and Son. These forms are a blend of African slave colonial Spanish culture. The livelier forms features fast hip movements and sexual strutting performed to a fiery orchestra of percussion. However, Ballroom Rumba comes from Son, one of the slower, less erotic versions of the dance.

By the late 1920's, America's appetite for Latin music was ignited. Orchestra leaders such as Xavier Cugat introduced and popularized Rumba music and dancing, which continued to grow in the 1930's and 1940's. Rumba was standardized as a ballroom dance in mid-1950s.


To give the history of Salsa dancing and where it comes from one must understand its music and how this style of music originated. In this day and age “Salsa” is used as a general term to describe all the different styles and rhythms this music has to offer. Some say that dancing Mambo is the grandfather of the way we dance Salsa. However dancing Mambo is specifically breaking on 2, while dancing Salsa can be whatever timing you prefer to break on, “On 1”, “On 2”, or even “On 3 or 4”. Besides the different styles of dancing Salsa (Cuban Style, NY Style, LA Style, Puerto Rican Style, etc.), it is the music and its history that gives us what is the sabor or flavor of how we dance Salsa today.

The word “Salsa” (meaning sauce) and how it got its name has always been controversial. Some say it was first heard in 1933 from a song Echale Salsita, a Cuban song composer Ignacio Pinerio, who got the idea after tasting food that lacked the Cuban spices. Others credit DJ's who used the term to describe the new school of Afro-Cuban music coming out of New York, Via the legendary Fania All-Stars, and Puerto Rico in the '60s. Musicians however, were busy creating the music but played no role in promoting the name Salsa. In fact, most serious musicians resented and resisted having their music labeled as such. One of Tito Puente's famous sayings was “Salsa is what you eat and Mambo is what you dance”. However the word “Salsa” continued to be developed by the music industry, record producers, and used as a marketing tool for magazines to describe this type of Latin music to the rest of the world. Salsa music is based mainly on “Son” with several other elements (or influences) added on (or “on top”) such as the Puerto Rican rhythms of the Plena and Bomba, Afro-Caribbean rhythms such as Rumba, Guaguanco, Charanga, Panchanga, Mambo, ChaCha-Cha, Guajira, Danzon, Guaracha, Son, as well as the American infusion of jazz, blues, and the big band era of swing. From the 17th to the 20th century, the Americas and the Caribbean islands were colonized with an immense blending of race, language, religion and music. Drumming being an integral part of everyday life in Africa, the Latin music we hear today mostly originate from the rhythms the African slaves brought to the New World and mixed with Spanish music and instruments. These rhythms created by the African slaves who when brought in the Caribbean, mixed their religion with the Catholic religion to describe their gods such as Yemaya, Babalu, Ochun, Chango, Obatala, Abacua to name a few. You can hear these names in many songs by the Queen of Salsa music, Celia Cruz.

Another important note on Salsa music is La Clave', which is the rhythmic formula that is the foundation of Salsa and all Afro-Cuban music for that matter. Emphasized is the importance of Clave' (literally translating into “key”), the hitting together of two little sticks (Clave's) which produce the sound of a two measure pattern or rhythmic phrase, which is the heartbeat and point of reference so that tall functions within the orchestra may work in unison and harmony. Whether you hear the Clave' or not it's still there! Its pulse is simply resounding in another instrument. The beat of the Clave' can be heard with many instruments. There are songs where there is no sign of any Clave' instrument, but one can hear its rhythm pulsate throughout the song with various other instruments taking its place.

As for the dance, we must give credit to those who developed this dance from the 50's to the present day. Eddie Torres, the King of the Salsa/Mambo, is one of the pioneers of the way we dance the modern timing of Salsa on 2 (Originally called the NY1). Augie and Maro Rodriguez, and the Palladium Legends-Freddie Rios and Mike Ramos whose great style and spirit gave us Mambo in its classic form, and to the LA Style made famous around the world by dancers such as Edie “The Salsa Freak”, Josie Neglia and the Vasquez Brothers who were influenced by great dancers like Joe Cassini, Laura Cannelias, Bob Medeiros with the fusion from dancers like Jaime & Gail Arias and Enio and Terryl Cordoba who developed Salsa on 1 with their speed, aerials and creative fusion of swing and ballroom dancing.

The two ways to dance Salsa are called Open Shines (Apart Position) and Partnerwork. In Spanish, the expression dejala que se defienda, let her shine...describes the spirit of the apart position. The partners let go of each other and perform dance steps across from each other with more independence. The term “shines” came about in the early fifties in New York when the guys shining shoes would do a little tap dance for their clientele for more tips. Partnerwork is when you dance together with your partner and requires a lot of coordination, connection and practice. Most of all when dancing Salsa, “body rhythm” and “feeling” is a must, without it, the dance can look mechanical. This would be the hardest to teach a student. Some say you cannot teach a feeling, that the student must learn that for himself.

Last but not least, Salsa's history of its Music and Dance is like a religion onto itself. “Salsa”, cultivated by Latinos, upon a Cuban base, with African roots, always changing and inventing through the years and continues to mutate and evolve daily. With more awareness of its history, Salsa dancing has now become not just a dance for Latin cultures but for all cultures throughout the world such as Asia, Europe, Middle-East, and more, thanks to great promoters such as Albert Torres, who has created unity through Salsa dancing. Salsa has become a universal mixing of all cultures, and is the most popular partner dance taught throughout the world today.


Samba originated on Brazilian plantations, where the African rhythms of slaves mixed with European music. Samba music served as an oral history, and the dance was a solo art form with rapidly moving hips and quick transfers of weight. Samba was introduced to the US in the late 1920s via the Broadway musical, Street Carnival, and became more widely exposed through film. Fred Astaire and Dolores del Rio danced to a Brazilian beat in Flying Down to Rio, and Carmen Miranda shook her hips in films including That Night In Rio. In the 1960s, Brazilian music became widely popular with the rise of Bossa Nova, a combination of Samba rhythms and cool jazz.

In the US, Samba evolved into a partner dance that was standardized as a ballroom dance in 1956. In Brazil however, Samba remains largely a solo form, danced at street festivals and other celebrations with nationalistic pride.

Dance Characteristics

Samba is an upbeat, lively dance that progresses counter-clockwise around the floor. It is characterized by its bounce and rolling hip action.